By Sgt. Lindsey Bradford, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Public Affairs OfficeNovember 21, 2009
Recently, the Army released suicide statistics for the month of October and the total number of suicides, suspected and confirmed, for 2009. Data indicates the number of Soldiers taking their own lives has surpassed numbers recorded at the same time last year.
Speaking to reporters Nov. 17, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli made note that since statistics were released for October, seven active-duty Soldiers and two reserve-component Soldiers committed suicide. However, Chiarelli said that numbers of suicides are decreasing, indicating the success of various programs the Army has implemented to address the issue.
"We attribute this reduction in the number of suicides to the many actions we have taken since February to inform and educate leaders and Soldiers on this important issue," he said.
The newest program, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, was put into practice Oct. 1. The program will allow Soldiers to assess their mental well-being twice a year, much like the Army Physical Fitness Test measures their physical well-being.
"It gives the same emphasis to psychological, emotional and mental strength that we have previously given to physical strength," he said.
Psychological, emotional, spiritual and mental strength provide balance to an individual, said Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Stice, command chaplain for Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
"The balance between physical and mental health is essential to high self-esteem and to fostering healthy relationships," said Stice, a College Park, Md., native.
The CSF program begins with the Global Assessment Tool, an online self-assessment tool that Soldiers can access using their Army Knowledge Online accounts. The survey currently consists of 175 questions, and takes about 30 minutes to complete.
Once complete, the GAT will provide individual feedback in five areas - physical, spiritual, family, emotional and social.
The Soldier will be able to evaluate their total comprehensive fitness level. No one has access to individual answers or scores and that the GAT is not used as a selection tool for promotion, command or schooling.
"No one will see your answers. Instead, your answers will focus on weaker areas of mental well-being, and point you in the right direction for help," said Stice. "It's all up to the Soldier whether he or she takes those crucial steps to seeking the help they may need at that time."
Each time a Soldier accesses the GAT, which will be bi-annually at a minimum, the program will track his or her progress. This will enable the Soldier to see performance changes in response to training, experience and maturity.
In contrast to other programs the Army has instituted, the GAT and CSF program are not aimed at suicide prevention, Stice said.
"The suicide stand down we did, and the 'Stomp the Stigma' video we watched were aimed at recognizing those who are most at risk for suicide and finding ways to intervene before they make the choice to commit suicide," Stice explained. "The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program focuses on keeping people strong, showing areas that may be weaker than others and preventing Soldiers from developing an imbalance. It helps build a stronger force."
Stice said it works as a great self-assessment tool because some people do not give themselves the credit they deserve.
"We're not just being responsive," Stice said. "We're being proactive."
Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17, 2009, there were 27 suicides in Iraq- 19 Soldiers, seven Marines and one Airman. For the same period, Army-wide, there were 140 active-duty and 71 reserve-component Soldiers who committed suicide.
Leaders can access current health promotion guidance in the newly revised Army Regulation 600-3 (Health Promotion).